Santa Paula Police Body Cameras

By Sheryl Hamlin

Item 12 A on the approved agenda for the September 21, 2015 Santa Paula Council was as follows:

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This item considered the use of Policy Body Worn Cameras as dictated by the new City Policy 424, which can be read in full in the staff report here.

Chief McLean thanked the Santa Paula Police and Fire Foundation for their continued financial support and then introduced Officer Larry Johnson who presented the decision making process used to select the particular brand and model of camera, as well as four video clips of examples.

The camera chosen was a Wolfcom Vision, which is known for providing full HD recording at 1080p. The camera is small and can be deployed in various positions along the body. Battery backup is also available, which the SPPD had configured in its financial analysis.

Officer Johnson said that Policy 424 requires activation of the camera for all domestic violence calls, all calls with mental health issues and all other adversarial contact, which is at the officer’s discretion. The goal is to limit liability for the city. He then showed four video clips: 1) a stop where cocaine was found on the person, 2) a K-9 search where the homeowner was informed of the presence of the K-9, 3) a traffic stop where the person had no license, and 4) a traffic stop where the driver was belligerent. In the last two cases the officer told the detainee he/she was being recorded. Policy 424 has been reviewed by the POA, Lexipol, Chief McLean, City Attorney Cotti and the District Attorney.

The videos provide five sources of evidence: visual, audio, identity through the use of an officer identification number, chronological via a timestamp and geospatial through the use of GPS. The use of such cameras has spawned a new branch of criminology: forensic video analysis. With technological improvements, it is almost impossible to determine if a video has been edited, according to one source.

Note: The council meeting video was posted on 9/22/2015, but was taken down in the afternoon and reappeared on-line on 9/25/2015. The video originally shown at the council meeting had been edited to block out the faces of the detainee both in the clips and the PowerPoint presentation, as shown below. There is no mention on the city’s website that the video had been edited.

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There was discussion about battery life, redundancy, dumping the video from the camera to the server and backup. All appeared consistent with modern procedures; however, there was no discussion about authentication to the server where the videos are stored. Is it simply password based or biometric based, which is more secure. A password can be compromised, but a fingerprint is more challenging. Disaster backup was not discussed.

The retention policy has several conditions for retention and destruction. If the video is not assigned to a case, e.g. no probative value, then the video is destroyed automatically after 180 days. If evidentiary value exists, then the video is stored indefinitely unless a judge orders destruction of the video.

The goal of the retention policy is to maximize the value of the video as evidence with minimal privacy violations. Mayor Procter asked City Attorney Cotti to discuss civil liberties with respect to videos. Mr. Cotti summarized the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) position saying that the ACLU does not like continuous recording and prefers officer discretion and they do not like in perpetuity retention of videos. To read the full opinion, click here to read their many concerns. Clearly the key is a vetted, enforceable policy, such as Santa Paula’s 424, and a well-trained police force.

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For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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